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The List, by Tara Ison
Scribner Hardcover
272 pages
ISBN-10: 0-7432-9414-9

Isabel and Al are a couple. A mismatched one, on the surface: she is a future surgeon, a brilliant one at that, he is a one-time wonder movie director now working in a video store. When they meet at a movie theater, they connect at a fundamental level. The next day, Al moves in.

Yet, the relationship does not go smoothly for either of them. Isabel is troubled that she loves someone with so little direction in life when she is so driven herself, Al resents her using her money to buy him things, things he doesn’t want. Soon, the love they have becomes twisted and so unsatisfactory to Isabel that she proposes a breakup process: a to-do list of ten activities that will conclude their relationship. But as the items are struck off the list, their behavior becomes more erratic and warped, leading to the mangled conclusion of their affair.

The list is a deeply disturbing novel on several fronts. It makes us face the reality that we all judge someone’s value by their work status. What they do is what they are. It makes us realize that our own insecurities could fuel the destruction of something precious, for fear of knowing ourselves. It makes us realize that passion without real communication is doomed to fail. Yet, The List doesn’t provide the solutions. It leaves us with the unsatisfactory ending of a NHE (Not Happy Ending), and yet, the story could not have ended any other way.

Tara Ison delves equally well into the worlds of medicine and movies, which helps paint each protagonist into vivid details without ever telling us about them directly. Ison’s prose is sharp, crisp, and elegant. Even when she writes a funny scene, she succeeds in showing its underlying pathos. The List is a thinking novel, one that leaves you wanting to change a few things about your own life.

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